Sharks, you may not love or like them but you have to respect them.
A perfectly honed predator, that has lived and evolved on this planet in various forms over the last 200 million years. In comparison, mankind joined the party pretty late at 200 thousand years and yet, it is us with our large brains and opposable thumbs that are considerably on top. Global fishery estimates our annual haul at approximately 100 million sharks. In comparison in 2013 there were 16 fatal unprovoked shark attacks, 2 of which were in Australia. This is also the same amount of Australian fatalities a year attributable to mans best friend, the domestic canine. Over the last 30 years the average sags to a mere 1.
The difference is highly emotively driven – we dont see sharks or crocs (3.5 kills per year in Australia) for that matter, as cuddly as say, dogs or hippos (2900 deaths per year in Africa!) and we certainly dont like the idea, of being snuck up to and snacked on by some cold blooded killer when we are already out of our natural comfort zone. Its that primal fear, our “spidey’ sense that has us looking into the darker waters when we surf, pulling our feet up or simply calling it a day. Its not our element and deep down we know it.
From a statistical point of view, in Australia there are estimated to be 100,000,000 beach visitations a year, using 2013 numbers this equates to 1:50 000 000 chance of being killed by a shark. Pretty slim pickings for our toothy nemisis. The biggest risk to anyone entering the water, is themselves with average drownings at 121 per year. To put it another way – you have a 12100% more chance of drowning than being killed by a shark.
Now that we have that out the way – let me preface this by saying I am a waterman who enjoys the ocean and I don’t want to be eaten. I have encountered sharks a number of times through the years, sometimes in a harrowing manner and I count myself lucky and richer for the experience.
So onto the shark culling solution in WA
To deal with the “endemic” numbers of sharks and attacks the WA government has determined the best course of action will be to deploy 72 baited drum lines each with a hook off Perth beaches and along the south-west coast. Any great white, tiger or bull shark caught that is longer than three metres would then be shot and discarded in open water. Any shark less than three metres or from another species would be let go, but not if it is not considered to be in a condition to survive.
So lets look at this reasoning.
It is said that numbers have “exploded” under federal protection – the great white, like most oceanic apex predators is under severe pressure though commercial fishing(bycatch and unmanaged) and shrinking food sources. They are also incredibly slow growing, with males taking over 9 years to mature and females over 14 years and also have small litters. So they are not a species that can recover quickly from overfishing like experienced in the ’80s. Numbers may have grown but hardly significantly and commercial bycatch reports reinforce this. So the idea of sudden explosions of population seem very far fetched. The only real population explosion, has been the increasing numbers of people in the water year on year increasing the likelihood of shark contact.
Then the idea of placing large baited drum lines to catch and kill large sharks over 3m. Sharks have highly developed olfactory sense and would be drawn to the baits from huge distances. Do we firstly not think, luring in sharks in this manner from vast distances to 1km of the beaches is a bad idea? It may also be a hugely effective way of drawing them in and killing them but at what cost? There is no selection in this process – what else will be caught this way? What about non harmful species greater than 3m? How exactly will they measure these live wild animal prior to killing/release?
Then why the dumping of carcasses at sea where no verification of the application of this rule may occur? How many other animals or sharks under limit will be conveniently disposed in this manner using the get out clause ‘it wouldn’t have survived’ – things left on a hook usually don’t.
So the solution in the end will – attract large numbers of sharks, kill those at a breeding size and will be vastly unregulated.
The next big question is how far will this go before its decided this is a bad idea? If there are no more attacks, will it be deemed a success to be adopted elsewhere? and if there are more attacks how much will it be intensified before an alternative solution is looked at? It all smacks of political gambit to appear to be doing something and to minimize accountability rather than look at a sustainable solution that allows co-existence.
I am a waterman and I don’t want to be eaten but I also don’t want to be poorer for an ocean that has less sharks just because of politics.
Has spent over 30 years of his middle aged life trying to spend more time in the ocean. Likes to surf, bodysurf, free dive and pretend he enjoys chasing big waves.